MERIDIAN, Idaho — The ingredients for an unforgettable race were there. A quarter-mile short track, one preferred groove, 18 cars, under the lights. It wound up being one, with an overtime finish that left fans wanting more.
The dominant driver all season made another statement in his championship quest, another vowed revenge after seeing his shot at a win go up in smoke and longshots wound up with career nights.
Here is everything we learned from the NAPA Auto Parts Idaho 208 at Meridian Speedway.
Derek Keeps Digging
He’s won four times this season in the K&N Pro Series West, six times overall and now has an even firmer grasp on the 2019 championship.
Derek Kraus’ Meridian victory came one year after leading 189 laps, only to finish third. This time around, he was going to make sure he finished off the job, leading 100 laps on his way to claiming the checkered flag.
"We just gotta keep staying consistent," he said of his championship outlook. "We gotta be at the front of the race at the end of the race. We didn’t qualify very good (seventh), to be honest we struggled a lot. But throughout the race, something clicks in this car. It’s been good with me the past three years racing with Bill McAnally Racing. It just comes on during the race. Really excited to go to the next three races."
The turning point of the race came with three laps to go in regulation. When Jagger Jones slid by, using the No. 16 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota up in Turns 1 and 2, Kraus repaid the favor in Turn 3, sending the No. 6 Sunrise Ford/XYO/Lucas Oil/Eibach Springs Ford spinning, collecting almost half the field.
— #MyTrackMyRoots (@NASCARHomeTrack) September 29, 2019
"I was a little upset with myself," Kraus said of the incident. "During that red flag, I was sitting there and playing back what happened at Bristol with Chase (Cabre) and Sam (Mayer). I guess that was on the first lap, but I was worried (NASCAR was) going to send me to the back."
Once the team relayed the information to Kraus that he wouldn’t be penalized, he turned his attention to choosing a lane for the final restart.
"I just said to myself ‘I have to start on the bottom,’" he said. "So we did that, got a good start, kind of drove away and my crew kept me calm the whole time, which helps a lot. I easily get frustrated, and that’s one of my weaknesses I feel. They kept me calm tonight and we were able to finish the job."
If Kraus can finish average by his standards, the championship should be his. He’s now up by 40 points over Trevor Huddleston with three races remaining.
Jonesing For Revenge
Much like the season opening race at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Dirt Track, Jagger Jones appeared to be on his way to earning the first victory of his career.
Next thing he knew, he was spinning, junked and done for the night.
"I raced him clean all race," Jones said of Kraus’ move. "He probably had a little bit of a better car, and then on that last restart, I mean, it’s a green/white/checkered, I didn’t want to just go in there, push him out of the way and take him out like he did to me. I just wanted to give him a little door, see what I could do and luckily, I think I had a really good restart. I think I did that. I didn’t just go in there and take him out, and then he just can’t put up with it, completely dumps us, tears up our car, our teammates car, half the field."
Just cleaned us out. Guess he can?t take a little rub on a GWC but he sure would have done much worse like he did in Colorado…. really wanted to win this won but we can only move forward?? https://t.co/95IFusnwYc
— Jagger Jones?? (@jaggerjones98) September 29, 2019
The usually mild-mannered, steady 17-year-old was understandably visibly angry in the moments that followed him climbing out of his wrecked race car, and vowed retribution.
"He better keep his seat belts tight, because I’m not going to put up with that," he said. "It’s just dangerous, it’s stupid. He has the points lead and races like that, just straight takes us out when we didn’t nearly do anything like that to him."
Kraus was candid when telling his side of the story, as he said he honestly was shocked with all that transpired.
"I’m going to be honest, I really didn’t expect him to get into my door," he said of the incident. "We made a little contact during the race, but that’s racing. You can’t get mad about that at all. I knew something was going to happen. That’s short track racing at the end of it. We were racing really clean, he just went in the corner and got into me pretty good. I really wasn’t expecting it."
— Bryan Nolen (@TheBryanNolen) September 29, 2019
"I tried crossing him over, and then going into (Turn) 3 I drove it in there a little bit too deep, got into him and he went around," he said. "I tried to slow down enough that he’d get sideways and his left front would hit my door and straighten it out, but that didn’t really happen."
Jones currently sits fourth in the standings, 48 points back of the leader but only eight back of second.
What if I told you two drivers making their debuts finished inside the top five, the sixth-place driver now only earned his best career finish, but finished on the lead lap for the first time, and two other drivers scored their first career top 10 results?
Just another short track Saturday night, right?
Josh Jackson and Brad Kossow finished fourth and fifth, respectively, steering clear of the wreckage. Boise native Josh Fanopoulos’ sixth-place run was the first lead-lap finish in his career.
Zach Telford, making his series debut, finished ninth, but was in line to finish second before Todd Souza made contact with the 15-year-old in Turn 2 on the final lap. Keith McGee also earned a top 10 result.
With Hailie Deegan’s troublesome night and Jones’ early retirement from the race, it provided the opportunity for some of the series’ underdogs to capitalize when it came down to crunch time.
And boy did they.
- Souza’s runner-up finish was his second-best of his career and eighth career top five. He finished third at Colorado earlier this season.
- Trevor Huddleston’s third-place finish vaulted him into second in the championship standings. He’s tied for second in K&N West wins (two) with Hailie Deegan this season.
- Deegan and Huddleston got into it on Lap 132, forcing her behind the wall for repairs. She wound up finishing 13th, 13 laps down. It dropped her to third in the standings, five back of Huddleston.
#KNWest "We've got sideways action and hitting, banging and Deegan's going into the frontstretch wall!!!"
Trouble for last year's winner!
— #MyTrackMyRoots (@NASCARHomeTrack) September 29, 2019
Man talk about a rough race. We had a solid setup coming from practice/qualifying then the track tightened up a lot more then expected in the race. We fought that until we got in a few lil mishaps. That?s racing. Leave the bad, take what we learned, and move on to the next one
— Hailie Deegan (@HailieDeegan) September 29, 2019
- Making his first start since 2015, Dylan Caldwell finished 11th. Bridget Burgess earned a 12th-place finish in her first career start.
- After earning a career-best fourth-place starting position, Devin Dodson finished 17th after radiator damage from a Lap 153 crash with Takuma Koga took him out.